Friday, February 28, 2003

What is going on here? According to CNN, former Governor Jimmy Carter will help lead a public discussion of whether Georgia should enlarge the Confederate emblem on its state flag. I have never quite understood the reason for having the symbol of the confederacy an a state flag to begin with. After all, most states didn't see fit to place it on their flag until well after the Civil War was over, which was obviously an attempt to discomfit African Americans.

Now it would seem to me that there is no reason for the symbol except to remind African Americans of their former position in Southern society. It couldn't possibly be there to remind the South of its backwards past and its inglorious savaging by my Northern ancestors, could it?
My Liberal Side Exposed
For everyone who sees me as a flag waving patriot, here comes the shocker- I am in agreement with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision stating that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are unconstitutional.

While I realize that for most people the Pledge is an innocuous statement of allegiance to America, that is so because we have been numbed to the actual words. When was the last time you actually thought about what "under God" meant? Replace that phrase with "under Jesus" or "under Allah" and you'll see what it actually means. It is a clear endorsement of monotheism. And while supporters of the Pledge insist that it refers to a generic god, the mere reference to a god at all is clearly in violation of the Establishment Clause. (It is interesting to note that many of the same people who claim that "under God" is not specific to a certain god are also the ones who make the most about the US being a Christian nation.)

Keep in mind, too that the original Pledge did NOT include that phrase. It was added in 1954. The impetus for the change was our fight against Communism and its atheism.

Now that the Cold War is long over, perhaps we can go back to the original Pledge. Whether we are a nation "under God" is a matter best left to theologians and not politicians.
This is from ABC's The Note, which if you care about politics you should be reading!

"The dominant media's failure to treat the operations and influence of unions (including the teachers unions) on par with the way corporations are treated is one of the great ongoing injustices of political reporting.

And the "special interest" control that unions (including and especially teachers) exert over the Democrats is badly undercovered as compared to the special interest influence that those same corporations have over the Republicans."

(The Note)

A Pox on Both Your Houses
That captures the way I feel about the current Estrada filibuster in the Senate. To be quite honest, I have not paid as much attention to the arguments of either side as much as I normally would. And I think part of the reason is that I am burned out on judicial confirmation battles. We've gone from Bork to Estrada, nearly sixteen years of petty politics, litmus tests, etc. How much more can any human bear? Rescue me before I fall into despair. (oops. sorry about the Police)

One can argue about who started the judicial hijinks, though it seemed to begin with Bork and continued with Thomas as the Democrats controlled the Senate. But during the Clinton administration the GOP controlled Senate did just as much "Borking" and blocking of qualified jurists. Both parties have engaged in judicial nomination hijinks and it is the country and our legal system that pay. There are far too many vacant benches in our Federal courts.

It's high time to stop playing the blame game and accept that it is the President's prerogative to nominate judges and the Senate's power to confirm.That is not to say the Senate should be a mere technicality in the process. For those candidates who lack judicial temperament, experience or other qualifications, the Senate is well within its power to reject their nomination. But to apply ideological litmus tests is beyond what the Senate ought to be doing.

One would hope that Presidents of both parties would only nominate those who are outstanding jurists. One would hope that Presidents would not nominate judicial activists of either stripe. (note to conservatives: don't even try to tell me that the Rehnquist Court does not contain activist judges, including the Chief)
What nuance
By now everyone has heard about the design to creat a liberal alternative to talk radio demagogues. One of the main reasons cited for the lack of a current alternative, and for the failures of Mario Cuomo, Jim Hightower et al., was that liberal politics has more nuance and therefore does not translate well to radio. I am not entirely sold on that point, but I will concede that the listeners of people like Rush Limbaugh are more followers than discerning listeners.
What seems to undermine that point, though, is the campaign being run by former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. In his speeches he uses the mantras of being from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party (an obvious jibe to those of us who identify with the moderate politics of the DLC and former President Clinton) and also that the current administration's Iraq policy is unilateralism. Either the Governor is extremely uninformed or he is milking a perception that the President is acting unilaterally, despite the fact that over 20 countries support our position. Sounds like he is every bit the demagogue as the right wing radio hosts and it seems to be playing well with the liberal wing of the Party.
So maybe that sort of short cut to actually thinking, one absent of nuance, will translate to radio as it has on the campaign trail. And, if liberal radio fails what will the Left blame for its demise after realizing that demagoguery exists on both sides of the dial? Will they finally accept that far left liberalism just does not appeal to the vast majority of Americans? One cannot hope for such an awakening from such a cocooned and self righteous group.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

On the heels of a letter denouncing the Bush tax plan by 450 economists, including 10 Nobel Laureates, the White House has released a statement by 250 "economists" who support the President here.
TAPPED is all over this one. Not only does the White House list include just one Nobel winner, but many are not even economists. Some only have bachelor's or master's degrees in economics, others do not have any degree in economics. TAPPED posits that you're not an economist without the Ph.D., but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "In the Federal Government, candidates for entry-level economist positions must have a bachelor's degree with a minimum of 21 semester hours of economics and 3 hours of statistics, accounting, or calculus." By those standards I am also an economist. I just need to find out where to go to add my name to those other economists who are opposed to Bush's tax boondoggle.
Labor Bullies
According to this story the labor unions are in a tiff over comments made by Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. In repsonse to a question about greater financial disclosure of union activities, Chao detailed seven criminal cases pending against the Machinists' Union. While this probably was not the most polite comment to offer to a union audience, one has to wonder about the reaction of the so called union leaders (bosses).
According to one, "We're disappointed frankly that they don't understand labor issues and labor people. The way the secretary presented herself today was proof of that. We think it's important that the labor movement strengthen its resolve as we go into 2004 to elect a president who understands working people."
One can argue about this administration's understanding of working people, and I think that is a valid concern. Yet, I fail to see the connection between explaining the impetus for greater financial disclosure and how that displays a lack of understanding of working people. What it really shows is an attempt to reign in labor union bosses and their secretive financial dealings. The average union member would welcome more transparency in his union's dealings, as would the general public.
However, union bosses have exercised such a degree of power, unencumbered by daylight. Why would they willingly give that up? But there is a long history of debate about whether union bosses actually represent their members' concerns and beliefs or their own narrow self interests. These poorly timed comments by labor union bosses only add fuel to the fire.
Union leaders use the "working people" card to the same extent that some black leaders play the race card. And more often than not it is a veil behind which they disguise their true agenda.
RIP Mr. Rogers
Fred Rogers, a fixture of my childhood and many other's, passed away today at the age of 74. Every American under the age of 40 is in mourning today as a piece of our past has been laid to rest. I think we can all remember his invitation to the neighborhood, along with his trademark cardigan sweater. He reinforced universal values of respect, kindess and love of oneself and of others. And he practiced what he preached on the show, noting in 1993, "It's not the honors and not the titles and not the power that is of ultimate importance. It's what resides inside."
Farewell, Mr. Rogers, you will be sadly missed.
(via New York Times)
It's Official!
Senator Bob Graham will file papers today to form a presidential campaign committee, according to CNN. Graham instantly becomes one of the top tier candidates, along with Kerry, Lieberman, Dean and Gephardt. Graham not only has a centrist record, but is a hawk on security and defense issues. He has been outspoken on our need to eliminate the threat posed by groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, going so far as to call for bombing their camps in Syria. In addition, it is assumed that Graham would carry his home state of Florida, which is crucial to Democratic plans to retake the White House in 2004.
I will post a link to Graham's site as soon as I can find one, aside from his Senate page.
(Disclaimer: musclehead has a strong affinity for Senators Graham and Lieberman which may affect my coverage of the P2004 race.)
And now, a word from our sponsor
Ok.. so Reebok doesn't really sponsor musclehead, and to be honest I am an Adidas guy. Nevertheless, go here to see the newest Terry Tate commercial. Reebok has even added Terry Tate AIM icons and you can see the entire Terry Tate story. Woo woo!

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Oh so American
So much has been written about our penchant for the quick fix, the short cut and the easy way out. That is not to say that all of it is true nor that no one still believes in doing things "the right way." But the reality is that we do want instant gratification; we want the slow person ahead of us to get off the road; we want a pill to take away our fat stomach overnight; etc.
One area where this is particularly troubling- and potentially devastating- is public policy. As an example, look at affirmative action. It's purpose is to mitigate socio-economic factors and the effects of past institutionalized racism. In the area of higher education what affirmative action does is to move the goal posts for admissions for certain groups of applicants in order to increase "diversity" and open up the doors of opportunity to some who might not otherwise have that chance. But what it really seeks to do is to level the playing field between minority and non-minority applicants.
While that is an admirable goal, the means used to achieve it is shortsighted and perilous. It focuses on just one pressure point in a complex system and attempts to correct what thirteen prior years of education failed to do. And its unintended consequence is to deny otherwise qualified non-minority applicants a place in an entering class, resulting in racial animosity.
A much more effective solution would be to ensure that ALL children receive a quality primary and secondary education, regardless of their socio-economic status or where they happen to grow up. If primary and secondary educational opportunities were more equitable, the need for affirmative action in higher education (and in other forms, too) would become unnecessary. It would allow admissions committees to focus solely on the quality of the applicant, would eliminate the need for universities to spend millions on remedial education, ensure that all students at an individual university are qualified to be there and eliminate the racial animosity created by uneven admissions standards.
But apparently this is too much to ask of our society. We would rather spend our time and money fighting legal battles over whether a racial preference system is tantamount to a quota and whether or not that meets the strict scrutiny standard. How much better off would we be if all the money, time and energy spent on both sides was given instead to improving the quality of primary and secondary education for poor children.
Although I do care about the legal issues raised in these cases, i just think it is such a shame to see so much energy wasted. And I am getting more than a bit tired of this nonsense and misdirected priorities.
Thank God for TNR
Howie Kurtz has a good story on The New Republic and its new editor here. As you may have noticed, I quote frequently from TNR pieces and from other columns written by Peter Beinart. My appreciation for the magazine began when I was still a conservative Republican seeking to understand what the other side thought. It has continued throughout my own progression from conservative firebrand to moderate pragmatist. While TNR tends to be labelled as a liberal magazine, I would argue that it is more centrist in its ideology. But such a judgment is based solely on where one stands.
The entire article is a good read, but here, I think, is the quote that distills TNR's philosophy-
"We're not for an era of tranquillity and harmony in the Democratic Party," Beinart says. "We're for a big ideological fight."

Peretz calls it "our struggle for the soul of the party. It's a direct extension of what we did with the contras, with Bosnia, with Jesse Jackson and race. . . . I say this is our mission, to keep the party honest."

(via Real Clear Politics)

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Victimized by prejudice
For those of you who are still not convinced of the moral correctness of gay marriage, please read this. If there is anyone not swayed by this story, could they please tell me what they find so offensive about two people declaring their love and commitment and enjoying the rights and responsibilities that go with it? (via Andrew Sullivan)
Dept. of Burning Questions
Several of my friends have asked why I didn't complete my Ph.D. and look for work in academia (I took the master's and ran). Well, for one the quality of students is on the way down and today's students feel entitled to good grades. They come to campus with a consumerist attitude and expect to be coddled rather than challenged. In addition, there is such a stifling orthodoxy on university campuses. It has created an attitude where truth comes second to feelings.
All of this is leading to something.. a great blog. Erin O'Connor is a professor at the Univ. of Pennsylvania and she covers academia like no one else. The link is over there on my blogroll, but here it is again. If you care at all about the current state of American higher education, check out her site and her links.
Paging Mr. Orwell
Wanna know what your Justice Department is up to these days? They're cracking down on online drug paraphernalia sites. That's right, we are in a state of high terror alert and John Ashcroft is worried about bongs!
First, the Justice Department gives us Patriot Act II, the sequel in which even more of your rights are taken away, now they are on a crusade to snuff out online bong sales. According to Minister Ashcroft, "Quite simply, the illegal drug paraphernalia industry has invaded the homes of families across the country without their knowledge." Since when is operating a website an invasion of people's homes? I guess I am invading your home right now, too. Sorry about that. I'll try not to ruin the carpet.
To top it off, Ashcroft is seeking a court order that the sites be redirected to a DEA site. And, through the magic of the Internet, the government would then have your ip address and be able to track you down. Big Brother here we come.
Memo to peaceniks
From: Musclehead
To: Peaceniks
Re: Public Relations

After viewing your marches, demonstrations and public pronouncements, it seems as though you could use a bit of help in the public relations department. And, as a public spirited person, I am offering this advice pro bono.

1) The most important thing you can do is to dissociate yourself from the rag tag collection of Marxists, Communists, Maoists and other revolutionaries who have largely hijacked your "gatherings". People like ANSWER and other groups of their ilk have a reflexive anti-Americanism which finds its base not in the current run up to Iraq, but in basic ideology. Many of these people truly despise America and what she stands for. It is these people who cause middle America to question the patriotism of ALL of the anti-war crowd.

2) Tone down the rhetoric and learn a bit of history. When people carry signs and chant slogans comparing the President to Adolph Hitler it shows that either (a) you are all ignorant of history, (b) you have no REAL message or (c) both.

3) Lose the celebrities. Sure they bring the media attention to your cause, but at what cost? The vast majority of Americans do not believe Martin Sheen or Fred Durst are foreign policy experts. And when you have airheads like George Clooney, whose only brush with war is acting in a movie about war, spouting off that there is no such thing as a winnable war right on the heels of our success in Afghanistan, it makes you ALL look foolish.

4) If you can't lose the celebrities, at least make them stay in the US and utter their inanities. It is especially galling to the average American when people like Larry Hagman go to Germany or any other nation and speak badly of their country. America is like a family, and families settle their disputes at the dinner table, not by telling the family down the street how bad your family is.

5) Protest at an Iraq embassy, at least once. After all, Iraq has had since November to disarm and to be candid about its WMD programs. Saddam could have been honest and open and that would have averted any chance of war. So why didn't you protest in front of the Iraq embassy calling for Saddam to disarm and to save his country and its citizens? It's these little things that make the average American think you are protecting Saddam and that you are either ignorant about the reality of his regime or that you simply don't care.

Hope this advice helps. Good luck!

Monday, February 24, 2003

Jesse Jackson, please come back!
There is an emerging consensus among moderate Democrats that Al Sharpton's candidacy could spell ruin for the Party's prospects in 2004 and beyond. In today's WSJ, Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, spells out the dangers of the man in the velour track suit (here subscription required, unfortunately). According to Beinart "The serious candidates hope that by embracing Mr. Sharpton -- Messrs. Lieberman, Kerry and Dean have each joked about being his running mate -- they can avoid being called racist. But the consequences for the eventual nominee, and for the party itself, could be enormous. If Mr. Sharpton wins a block of delegates, and the eventual nominee has to publicly negotiate for his support in the days leading up to the convention, that nominee will discredit himself in the eyes of the millions of Americans who see Mr. Sharpton, rightly, as a charlatan. A Sharpton prime-time convention speech would be the Democratic equivalent of Pat Buchanan's speech to the GOP faithful in Houston in 1992. And his emergence as the most powerful black leader in the Democratic Party would be politically and morally corrosive to the party for years to come."
Beinart has another piece here; and there is one more here by Michelle Cottle. The gist of the arguments made is that Sharpton is a loose cannon beholden only to his own megolamania. As NYC Dems can attest, Sharpton is a tireless self promoter who puts his own narrow interest above the Party. This bit hits the nail on the head "According to Al Sharpton, the behavior of Al Sharpton is synonymous with the cause of civil rights, and therefore any criticism of Al Sharpton is, by definition, an attack on racial justice."
In other words, Al Sharpton is the master par excellence of playing the race card. The danger for the Democratic Party is that any criticism of the "Reverend" will be portrayed as racism. This is especially galling given Sharpton's complete lack of gravitas and knowledge of public policy. Unfortunately, the other candidates will make the calculation that it is easier to treat the velour sweat suited one with kid gloves rather than to challenge his positions. How unfortunate for the Party and for America.
The antidote is in
For all of you who were unfortunate enough to be exposed to Monsieur Debray in yesterday's NYT, here is your antidote courtesy of Lileks. You really need to read the entire bleat, but if you're pressed for time, just keep in mind this bit of info about Debray that the Times somehow forgot to mention. He is an avowed Communist, supporter of Fidel Castro, was sentenced to 30 years in a Bolivian jail (unfortunately, he was let go after just three years), and he defended Milosevic in the early 90's.
Was the Times unaware of Debray's past, did they know and forget or did they realize a more accurate description might explain his virulent anti-Americanism? You decide.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Not worth a hill of peanuts
Could someone please tell Jimmy Carter to shut up? Don't get me wrong, I think the work the former President does with Habitat for Humanity and other causes is quite good and admirable. But can he please stop talking about foreign policy? After all, he doesn't exactly have a record to boast about.
The obvious reference point is his abysmal attempts at securing the release of American hostages in Tehran while he was President. But it doesn't end there. We can thank last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner for negotiating such a good nuclear deal with the North Koreans back in the early 90's. Now Pyongyang has come clean and admitted that it has nuclear weapons pointed at the West Coast of Ameirca.
Perhaps Mr. Carter is moved by his idealism, but all too often he checks his brains and realism at the door. Thanks a lot Jimmy.
How would you like your hypocrisy served sir?
Fresh from his flip flop on abortion, Congressman Dennis Kucinich was hit with this zinger from Tim Russert- "he voted in October 1998 for the Iraq Liberation Act, a measure calling for regime change in Iraq. Wasn’t that what President Bush is trying to do? The Congressman claimed weakly that he was voting to “continue to use sanctions.”
Punditwatch is on the case. Bookmark that site as it is indespensible!

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Rock on
This kid needs a record deal. Forget the fact that he calls everything gay. I'm pretty sure he isn't a homophobe. But he has more talent than the boy bands!
Who vs. who
It just seems like the Democrats can't get enough of the us vs. them strategy. In 2000, it was Al Gore's "People versus the Powerful." Of course, one had to muse about how someone who grew up in DC and attended St. Alban's represented the "people". Of course, the message ultimately failed and has since been criticized by Gore's running mate, Joe Lieberman.

Failing to learn from past mistakes seems to be a Democratic tendency (see McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis). Now, we have Senator Edwards hitting that same populist note. Edwards believes he can be "a champion for regular people." Ultimately that is up to the voters to decide, but I have my suspicions about whether a millionaire trial attorney will convince regular people he is one of them.

And, don't even get me started on the whole idea of this divisional politics. Suffice to say, I don't like it.
What difference does it make?
It makes none. I was reminded of these Smiths' lyrics while watching John Edwards speak to the DNC just now on CSPAN. Edwards was castigating the Bush admininstration for its ties to special interest groups and making the point that America needed a President who cared and worked for the average American.

I couldn't agree more, but I am not convinced that that person will come from the Democratic Party anymore than I believe in ghosts. Sure, the Party talks a good game about being for the powerless and voiceless. However different the Democratic Party is from the Republican Party on policies, there is no fundamental difference in their politics and governing strategies. Just as the GOP relies on certain interest groups for campaign support, so does the Democratic Party. And while our special interests might be different, they are hardly the powerless or voiceless. Unions and trial lawyers call the tune in Democratic politics. And, the last time I checked union bosses and trial lawyers were doing fairly well.

The GOP plays to Wall Street while we play to K Street. Does that make us any better? Are we somehow morally superior because, at least in theory, we pander to more liberal groups? I would argue that we are equally as morally repugnant as the Republicans. We allow ourselves to be dictated to by a narrow range of special interest groups while the concerns of the average American are largely ignored.

JFK said, "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." America's working and middle classes have been doing for their country for decades while wealthy elites, both liberal and conservative, have drained public resources and abused society's goodwill. Well connected interest groups have lined their pockets with the public treasury and saddled the private sector with bad policy. Whether it be the crony capitalists of the Bush administration or the trial lawyers who, like Edwards, have stood in the way of tort reform.

Elections are nothing more than an exercise in determining who is worse and then pulling the other lever. Voters have to decide which special interests come closer to their own beliefs. No one is presented with a genuine alternative. Someone who will rise above the narrow special interests and really work for ALL Americans.

Yet, we wonder why less than half of all eligible voters even bother to go to the polls. This in a country that just over 200 years ago fought for the freedom to govern ourselves. Back then we were ruled by a distant, unelected monarchy. Today, we are ruled by an unelected, distant oligrachy of special interests. So what difference does it make?
Just can't get enough?
Here is a letter to the Editor I wrote about SUNY tuition, but it applies to state college systems everywhere.
Preaching to the Choir
Kos is pumped up about Howard Dean's performance at the DNC cattle call yesterday. Dean is running as the anti-war, anti-Washington candidate in the Democratic primary. It will be interesting to see how well he plays now that uber dove Congressman Kucinich is in the race. But, at least according to this story, Dean is igniting the DNC faithful.

What Kos seems to ignore is the reality that the DNC members are far to the Left of the American public. Playing well to this group does not equal success with the general public. In fact, one could make the argument that playing well here is an indicator of electoral failure. Dean gets much of his accolades for his opposition to war with Iraq. And while that position may play well with the Democratic base, it does not resound with middle America. Just to show how out of touch this group is they nodded in support when a protestor shouted "Shame" at Dick Gephardt for his comment that Saddam must be disarmed. Can these people honestly believe that Saddam should not be disarmed? Wow.

The major problem with Dean's position on Iraq is that it would give the UN veto power over US foreign policy (as noted by the Kerry campaign). Would we be better off by placing our foreign policy in the hands of the institution that failed to prevent genocide in Rwanda or Bosnia? Do we really want China, Syria or other tyrannical regimes having a say over our foreign policy? Is Howard Dean serious?

And let's face it, Dean's position on civil unions place him outside of the mainstream. To be quite honest, I don't think civil unions go far enough, gays and lesbians deserve full marriage rights. However, I realize that my position is outside of the mainstream. That does not mean that Dean should drop or change his position, but Democrats should realize what the GOP will do to Dean in a general election. But, it will never get that far because as much as the primary and caucus system is controlled by the more liberal elements of the Party, there is still a pragmatic commitment to end the Bush administration in 2004.
One down, nine to go
Got my first law school acceptance Thursday. Unsurprisingly, it came from the school I briefly attended back in 1994. Didn't imagine they'd have any reason not to take me again. After all, in the intervening time I completed a master's degree with a 3.9 gpa, added to my resume and broke 170 on the LSAT.
While it is good to hear from someone, and eases my mind a bit, I'd much prefer to hear from a "new" school. So now I sit and wait for the other nine to get back to me. Hurry up!!

Friday, February 21, 2003

Sick of war writing?
Neal Pollack wants us all to shut up! This is the funniest piece I have read in ages. Do yourself a favour and click on over, now!
Are you the victim of an erect penis?
Erin O'Connor is all over the snow phallus controversy at Harvard, here. The whole piece is worth a read and Erin brings her usual erudition to what may seem like nothing more than a silly story. The facts are basically this- a large snow phallus was erected at Harvard, then someone crushed it.

Now, the average person would probably look at a large phallus as a humourous piece of artwork and get a chuckle on their way to class. But not the over-sensitized Harvard students who destroyed it. According to sophmore Amy Keel, "no one should have to be subjected to an erect penis without his or her express permission or consent." But is a snow phallus really the same as being flashed by a stranger in Harvard Square. Pardon the pun, but hardly!

She goes on to say that, "The unwanted image of an erect penis is an implied threat; it means that we, as women, must be subject to erect penises whether we like it or not." The erect penis by itself is an implied threat? And what on earth is the threat? The threat of pleasure? One should pity the poor Harvard undergrad male who deigns to get intimate with Ms. Keel. Or, if Ms. Keel happens to be a lesbian, one worries for the partner who might brandish a strap-on as a means of sexual pleasure.

In the aftermath of the sexual revolution we have now come full circle back to a more Victorian notion of sex and sensibility.

Update: What if the penis was flaccid? Would Ms. Keel still find it offensive, or would it be symbolic of male impotence?
Voice of Reason
This is from the irrepressible Christopher Hitchens-
"the French are owed several billion dollars by Saddam for their past help in supplying the sinews of aggression against Iran, Kuwait and Kurdistan.The Russian government, too, is seeking lucrative contracts in the Iraqi market and is being rewarded with such contracts for its slithery behaviour at the UN.Excuse me, comrades, but that is "blood for oil".

Hitch goes on to say-
"The last time that the "peace" marchers assembled, they would have spared the government of the Taliban.The time before that, they would have spared the regime of Slobodan Milosevic.Thank goodness that such opinions no longer count, however many people may be persuaded to hold them."

And this gem about the protestors at the last protest in Hyde Park-
"These were:
(1) Those who knew what they were doing and
(2) Those who did not.
Among the first tendency - the animating and organising force - were an easily-recognisable bunch of clapped-out pseudo-Marxists who, deep in their hearts, have a nostalgia for the days of the one-party State and who secretly regard Saddam as an anti-imperialist.
They were assisted by an impressive number of fundamentalist Muslims, who mouth the gibberish slogans of holy war but who don't give a damn for the suffering inflicted by Saddam on their co-religionists.
A more gruesome political alliance I have never seen.
Then came the sincere, fuddled stage-army of the good - people who think that a remark such as "peace is better than war" is an argument in itself. Their latest cry is that "inspections" should be given "more time". I am always impressed by sweet people who are evidence-proof."
Money Grubber
Some of you may have noticed the "make a donation" button on the sidebar. It's right there, just above my site meter and below the comments link. If you like what you see and you want to help out an unemployed writer, then give it a click. You can contribute as little as a buck, I think. I figure if people are willing to pay for a boob job surely the internet can cough up a few bucks for me.
Dept. of Mixed News
First, the good news. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) will file the paperwork necessary to run for President next week. Graham has been mentioned in the past as a VP candidate, having served both as Governor of Florida and one of its US Senators. He is a leader of the Senate New Democrat Caucus and has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration on security matters. Unlike other Senate Dems who voted against the use of force authorization, Graham voted no because he didn't think the resolution went far enough. Graham has called for the bombing of terrorist camps in Syria. Make no doubt about it, the former Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee is a security hawk.

And now for the bad news. Graham is recovering from heart surgery and the pundits are already questioning his ability to mount a campaign at this late date and with these sorts of health issues.

Assuming that Graham is indeed healthy and recovered there is no reason to count him out of the race. While he draws from the same base of support as Senator Lieberman among New Democratic voters, he comes from a crucial, vote rich state. He is an expert on security and intelligence issues, which will weigh heavily on voters' minds in 2004. He has a squeaky clean record and is extremely bright. Graham is a graduate of Harvard Law School and has served as a state legislator, Governor and US Senator. Since his time as a State Senator in 1974, Graham has done what he calls "Workdays" where the Senator takes on another job for a day. Graham is a true moderate who balances progressive ideals with fiscal responsibility and exists in the vast middle where most American voters live.
French consistency
Not only do the French want to coddle the Baghdad tyrant, but tyrants in Africa receive free passes as well. Just this week, France played host to an African conference in Paris. Leaving aside France's horrendous colonial past and continued colonizer mentality (see Ivory Coast) toward their former colonies, the real outrage is the presence of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Not only has Mugabe dispossessed white farmers of their land, but he has allotted that land to his political cronies, family and friends. Mugabe and his minions have bludgeoned political opponents, rigged elections and driven what was one of Africa's greatest farming nation into one in which millions are suffering from starvation. Mugabe has systematically squelched opposition through force, but also by denying food aid to areas of the country where the opposition party enjoys support.

As a result, the EU has imposed economic sanctions, frozen assets and blocked travel to Europe by Mugabe and his ministers. But, of course, France saw fit to seek a waiver and invite the Thug to Paris for their petit conference. If one is to believe Mr. Chirac, it was an opportunity to confront Mugabe face to face. But was it really anything more that a tea and croissant session intended to cement the two countries ties in order for France to exploit the natural resources of Zimbabwe?

This is from a Zimbabwean-
"The crafty, amoral, utterly cynical French government, on the other hand, has the confused Mugabe playing right into their hands.

Sore at being seen to be marginalised in big league world affairs by the Americans and the British, they will use any opportunity to try to show independence of them in their actions, especially when all it costs them is rubbing the inflated egos of Third World tyrants for a couple of days by hosting them at a sumptuous banquet, and letting them espouse their pet theories before an international audience."

With France's international power crumbling under the tide of US hegemony, Chirac has turned to Africa in an attempt to flex French muscle. Chirac and France have become so desperate to exert power anywhere, that the abysmal human rights records of many of these African despots are of no consequence. As long as France can play the tune, it doesn't seem to matter who the dancers are. But Chirac is playing a dangerous game, one which could ultimately destory what little credibility France still has in the international community. As noted here in the Guardian,Chirac "has made much of a 'new partnership' between Europe and Africa, but critics say France should stop playing host to leaders who in some cases are under investigation by European and international courts for crimes including torture and genocide.

The Federation of Human Rights Leagues said the summit could achieve little while Paris turned a blind eye to widespread human rights and democratic abuses in countries such as Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Tunisia, Congo and the Central African Republic.

'I suppose the lunches and dinners will give these leaders an opportunity to drink to the health of populations that are being massacred," said the group's president, Patrick Baudoin. Another activist, Dobian Assingar, said France "must stop laying out the red carpet for criminals'. "

Questions from an Iraqi
This is from a letter penned by an Iraqi woman who lives in exile in London. She poses some tough questions for the anti-war crowd. But she also has no great love for the US or western policy towards Iraq in general. And I think it is important to keep in mind our complicity in arming Saddam during the 1980's and our decision to turn our backs on the Iraqi people in 1991 after we left the country.
Read the entire letter here.

You may feel that America is trying to blind you from seeing the truth about its real reasons for an invasion. I must argue that in fact, it is you who are still blind to the bigger truths in Iraq. I must ask you to consider the following questions:

Saddam has murdered more than a million Iraqis over the past thirty years; are you willing to allow him to kill another million?

Out of a population of 20 million, 4 million Iraqis have been forced to flee their country during Saddam’s reign. Are you willing to ignore the real and present danger that caused so many people to leave their homes and families?

Saddam rules Iraq using fear; he regularly imprisons, executes and tortures large numbers of people for no reason whatsoever. This may be hard to believe, and you may not even appreciate the extent of such barbaric acts, but believe me you will be hard-pressed to find a single family in Iraq which has not had a son/father/brother killed, imprisoned, tortured and/or ‘‘disappeared” due to Saddam’s regime. What then has been stopping you from taking to the streets to protest against such blatant crimes against humanity in the past?

Saddam gassed thousands of political prisoners in one of his campaigns to ‘‘cleanse” prisons; why are you not protesting against this barbaric act?

This is an example of the dictator’s policy you are trying to save. Saddam has made a law excusing any man who rapes a female relative and then murders her in the name of adultery. Do you still want to march to keep him in power?

Throughout my life, my father and many other Iraqis have attended constant meetings, protests and exhibitions that call for the end of Saddam’s reign. I remember when I was around 8 years old, I went along with him to a demonstration at the French embassy, protesting against the French sale of weapons to Saddam. I have attended the permanent rally against Saddam that has been held every Saturday in Trafalgar Square for the past five years. The Iraqi people have been protesting for years against the war: the war that Saddam has waged against them. Where have you been?

Why is it now – at the very time that the Iraqi people are being given real hope, however slight and however precarious, that they can live in an Iraq that is free of the horrors partly described in this email – that you deem it appropriate to voice your disillusions with America’s policy in Iraq?

Good question.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Bob, weave and duck
The name of a dance move? New band? No, it's the Democrats running for President. An old song asks the question, "doesn't anyone stay in one place anymore?" Apparently not if you're running for President where there have been more position changes than in last weekend's Daytona 500. For the sake of simplicity, I won't even touch the two silly candidtates- Braun and Sharpton.

John Kerry the current front runner and undisputed King of bob and weave. This guy changes his positions more often that most people change their underwear. He voted in favor of giving the President authorization to use force against Iraq, but has managed to contort himself into several yoga like positions since then. In the early 90's Kerry gave a speech questioning affirmative action, but now he has voiced full throat support. And the man is a living pander-a-thon. Recently, he spoke of his Jewish ancestors and how he had just uncovered the lineage. The Boston Globe reported this story several years ago. But keep in mind Kerry was speaking to a Jewish political group. Surely there are better ways to connect with voters than by insulting their intelligence, Senator!

Dennis Kucinich is one of two dove candidates, the one who thinks poverty is a weapon of mass destruction. On the same day he announced his candidacy, he also "clarified" his position on abortion. He had been a pro-life Congressman with a particularly good voting record in the eyes of various pro-life groups. Only now that he is running for President as a progressive he does not want to alienate the predominantly pro-choice liberals who his anti-war stance resonates with.

Joe Lieberman used to be a reliable moderate New Democrat. That was up until he joined Team Dukakis (oops, Gore) in the 2000 Presidential sweepstakes. Since then, Lieberman has come back into the New Democrat fold more or less. The one glaring flip flop though is on affirmative action. Afraid of alienating black voters in South Carolina, Lieberman has become a major booster of affirmative action. The surprising part is Lieberman, as much as any other white candidate, has the most bona fides on the race issue as someone who participated in the Freedom Summer.

John Edwards is a man who would make Machiavelli proud. Realizing that he faced a very difficult re-election for his Senate seat, Edwards decided to "trade up" for a shot at the White House. Not to be outdone in the important contortion category, Edwards has said that he will personally abide by the NAACP's boycott of South Carolina, but that his campaign will not. Huh? Edwards likes to portray himself as a man of the people, but he is actually a multi-millionaire trial lawyer. He has been noted for his "NASCAR" strategy, but somehow I think the good ol boys swilling their Budweisers will see through this.

Dick Gephardt has gone through more political personalities than Michael Jackson has nose jobs. Gephardt went from a supporter of Reagan's tax cuts to Clinton's tax increase. From an opponent of the first Gulf War to a supporter of the use of force in Iraq. From pro-life to pro-choice. At times he has been a self described moderate New Democrat, only to follow that up with support for protectionst trade policies. Will the real Dick Gephardt please stand up, please stand up?

Howard Dean is a bit of a different creature. Aside from his incoherent stance on the use of force against Iraq, Dean actually seems to believe what he says and sticks to it. As far as Iraq goes he has been against the use of force, but hedges by saying it may be appropriate if weapons of mass destruction are found. (Duh!) But Dean has held onto positions that are rather controversial, including his support for civil unions for gay and lesbian couples and universal health insurance.
Affirmative Distraction
With the briefs in the Michigan case just about due, I thought it was time to talk a bit about affirmative action. Both as someone who has thought about it a bit and as someone who will undoubtedly be effected by it. As I sit and write, my application is somewhere in the labyrinth of the U of M Law School admissions process (as well as nine other schools). I think that by now most people are familiar with the case and the issues, so I will abstain from burdening you with links.

What I think is important about this case, and affirmative action in higher education in general, is that there are two different arenas in which to view the policy- undergraduate admissions and graduate/professional school admissions. I think they warrant separate consideration and my own beliefs about affirmative action are different at the two levels.

When looking at undergraduate admissions it is important to recognize the reality of America's K-12 educational system. It is one in which the vast majority of poor and minority children attend resource poor public schools. They are more likely to have uncertified teachers, rookie teachers and less resources in terms of school books, technology and enrichment programs. Our country's public educational system almost befits the term apartheid. Yet, there are those minority children who are fortunate enough to be born into middle class and upper class families.

The effect of a colour blind admissions policy for undergraduate institutions would propagate the inequities of the K-12 system. Students without the advantages of qualified teachers, up to date textbooks, and classroom technology would be unable to compete with their better off peers. The quality of the end product of K-12 education is predominantly a factor of that education. That is not to say that inherent intellectual ability will be lost or missed, but that it is an unfair burden placed on poor and minority children by society. And that is why I believe in affirmative action at the undergraduate level. I hesitate to add that I might be more comfortable with affirmative action if it were class based rather than race based. I can see no compelling reason for Colin Powell's or Condi Rice's children to receive any boost in the admissions process.

However, I see graduate/professional school admissions as an entirely different beast. By that point, students have completed at least four years of higher education and therefore the differences that were present at the end of secondary school should have been minimized (by differences, I mean those attributable to poor K-12 schooling). Of course, that is not to say that in certain fields minorities are under-represented. Yet the solution to that problem lies in the financial aid process, not in admissions. Institutions must make graduate and professional schooling attractive and economical to under-represented minorities through the provision of grants and scholarships. Access to graduate school means not just admitting qualified minority students, but enabling them to attend.

Further, I should make clear that my support of affirmative action for undergraduate admissions does not suggest that I am in favor of accepting unqualified poor or minority students. Rather it is an endorsement of looking beyond qauntitative factors that may be more influenced by environment than by native ability.

An unfortunate anniversary
Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl by Islamo-Fascists. In this piece in today's Opinion Journal Pearl's father notes that one year later no world leader, aside from President Bush, has decried the rising anit-Semitism that motivated this horrific killing. In fact, much of Europe played down the anti-Semitic nature of his murder and instead made it out to be violence against journalism. This should not be a surpirse though, given the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, which runs from the usual neo-Nazi suspects right up to the the wife of the head of the European Central Bank.

The news has been loaded with stories of violence against Jews in Europe here, here, here, and here. You get the picture, I'm sure. But just in case, here is a report by the Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights. Simply put, the current wave of anti-Semitism has no equal in modern history, save for the inglorious days of Hitler.

Surf the internet, listen to the radio, read the papers. There is anti-Semitism nearly everyhwere you look. From the hard line of "kill the Jews" to the more gentle claims that "the Jews bring it on themselves." There are those in this world, sadly including some in the US, who believe that Mossad was responsible for the 9-11 attacks, or that Israel knew and did not alert the US. There are otherwise reasonable people who believe American Jews are more loyal to Israel than their home country. Those of us who speak out against anti-Semitism are called "puppets of our Zionists masters" or a "part of the Israel lobby".

But to speak out about anti-Semitism is simply the right thing to do. And why anti-Semitism has somehow become fashionable in certain Leftist salons is incomprehensible to me. These same people who oppose all other forms of racism and discrimination show no such compunction with regards to condemning and castigating Jews. And let us not forget who in the Middle East has been our long time ally. The only democratic and free country in the region. If given the choice, I will always stand fast with those share our American values of freedom. And that is why I stand with Israel and against the world's anti-Semites.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Oh, to be 35 and American
After all, that's all it seems to take to run for President. The Democratic field has grown by one more today with the announcement by former Senator Carol Moseley Braun of an exploratory committee (here). As if having Al Sharpton in the race was not embarassing enough, here comes the ethically challenged Braun.

Apparently, the only real qualification one needs to throw their hat into the Democratic ring is sheer megalomania and chutzpah. How anyone can view Al "Tawana Brawley" Sharpton as anything but a sideshow freak is amazing. But let's dispense of the man in the velour sweat suit. What about Braun? While she was the first African American woman elected to the US Senate, she had an unremarkable term. That's right, term. How many members of Congress can say they served one term? Braun was not only ousted after one term, but she was beaten by the Senate's dimmest bulb and most vulnerable incumbent in 2004 (Peter Fitzgerald). This was the result of her ethical lapses and her inability to get anything done for the people of Illinois.

What's worse was her willful ignorance of the plight of Nigerians during her term. The Senator visited the country and paid homage to its dictator, claiming that she saw nothing wrong in the country. This was despite reports from many international human rights organizations and Nigerian dissidents. But Braun was content to be a useful idiot for the despotic General Abacha.

Beyond the effect on the Democratic Party at large, what about the effect on African Americans. What does it say when the two black candidates for President have such checkered pasts? While people like Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. are trying to create a post racial path for African American politicians, people like Braun and Sharpton are setting back the cause for generations. If only they could put aside their delusions and think about the future of their race, their party and their country.

According to Roll Call, via TAPPED, the Democrats are now emulating the GOP's Monday meetings to coordinate strategy. Of course, having a coherent message and strategy among groups is a good idea and could help the party to speak with one voice. But what is troubling is the list of groups participating- NARAL, AFL-CIO, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and EMILY's List. In other words, it's the most liberal of the party's interest groups. This list is probably not exhaustive, but it gives a good look into the inner workings of the Democratic Party.

The Party has yet to learn that you can put all the interest groups together and you will still FAIL to get the necessary 50%+1 of the vote. Not to mention that when you become beholden to special interests, you turn off the vast majority of Americans who are NOT liberals. The great achievement of the Clinton/Gore administration was its ability to appeal to moderate, suburban (and even some rural) whites. And that is a lesson that somehow has been lost in the past couple of years. We have seen Al Gore play Mike Dukakis and the Congressional Dems shoot themselves in the foot.

The long run problem is that the Party had been able to maintain its Congressional dominance in the face of Republican White Houses and its leaders became complacent. But that all changed in 1994 and save for a brief time we have been out of power ever since. There was a reason that the Democratic Party was successful in Congressional elections despite GOP dominance in national races: they controlled redistricting! But that is no longer the case, and winning back control of the House will be nearly impossible until after the next census. The Senate is obviously a different matter and given the success of moderate Democrats, that chamber could be won rather easily as there is no way to gerrymander a state (at least not yet).

The genius of Clinton/Gore was their appeal to ALL Americans. Their message of hope, opportunity and responsibility resonated with almost every American. It was not tailored so that part of their message appealed to blacks, another part to women, another to environmentalists, etc. And that is the secret to winning over the American people. You have to talk to ALL of them. Don't divide them into groups and pledge allegiance to many different pet policies. Have a coherent governing strategy that is based on American values and invite people to come along in the journey to build a better America.
Let the bodies hit the floor

Warning: This post will offend and may upset many readers.
Last night at the gym, while doing cardio, I looked up at the news ticker on the television to see that about 100 Westerners have arrived in Baghdad to serve as "human shields". (This tells the story of some.) And two things came to mind immediately.

First, did these "human shields" bother to stop in Northern Iraq and speak to the Kurds to get their feelings about Saddam? Or, maybe they can travel south and talk to the Kuwaitis whose land Saddam tried to expropriate. But of course they won't because their mission is to protect Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard. That is what a "human shield" is supposed to be, right? Who has time to listen to people who have been affected by Saddam Hussein when you're busy protecting him and his tyrannical regime from international law.

The other thought that I had was about the old saying, "over my dead body". We have all heard it, most likely from our mothers or fathers when we were kids. Of course, our parents didn't mean this as a literal expression, but just to symbolize their absolute opposition. Isn't going to Baghdad to be a "human shield", staying at a hotel across from one of Saddam's palaces, basically saying, "over my dead body"? Isn't it saying, "take my life before you take Saddam's or one of his Republican Guards"?

That is the way I see it and to be honest, all I can say is, "Let the bodies hit the floor!"

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

BlogCritics piece as promised.
Not too bad

So digging out wasn't too bad. Luckily no one was parked in front of me so all I had to do was shovel an arc large enough to drive out of. To top it off, the snow was pretty fluffy, so I was able to ram my car into another spot when I got home. It's always a bonus when you don't have to shovel twice!

The Blog Critics piece is done, will post the link as soon as it is up. I went in a completely different direction, though, and wrote about the death of alternative music.
Light Load

Musclehead will be on the light side today. Not sure why, but I am not in the mood to write much, plus I have to dig my car out from a foot of snow and do some grocery shopping. What joy that will be. Plus, I need to get to work on my Blog Critics piece. Still haven't decided what to do, though. I am reading an old Iain Banks book, so that review is a bit less than timely. Leaning towards the Zwan CD, but also considering Hitchen's Letters to a Young Contrarian. Decisions, decisions...

Monday, February 17, 2003

A little bit of humour

Click here for a laugh. Thanks to Josh over at OxBlog.
Party Politics and Campaign Finance Reform

One of the alleged effects of campaign finance reform is the weakening of the two major parties. (opponents of CFR also allege that special interest groups will gain more clout, but given most major sig's opposition to McCain-Feingold that doesn't seem quite right) So, I say hooray for unintended consequences because there is nothing more hindering to our democracy than the two major parties and their lock on power.

Case in point. Tonight on CSPAN I was watching several of the Democratic presidential hopefuls speak to an Iowa labor conference. I really ought to substitute the phrase suck up for speak. And this happens every presidential cycle and on both sides of the aisle. The Democrats are forced to play to the left wing of their base, consisting of labor unions, environmentalists, and sundry other liberal groups. Meanwhile, GOP candidates are forced to kowtow to the Religious Right, the pro-lifers and the homophobes.

In reality, the vast majority of Americans do not belong to either the Right or the Left. They are moderates who want their government to be responsive and efficient. But the dance that the parties' bases force on candidates leave most Americans confused and dismayed. It becomes a battle of who can move themselves back to the the center the quickest without alienating their base in the party. This is phenomenally bad for America and for democracy.

Parties exercise far too much control over who will appear on the ballot. And that holds true not just for Presidential elections, but down to state legislative races. Especially important, I think, is the effect defanging parties could have on the US Senate and Congress. In the Senate, there are 20 members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition and 8 or 9 moderate Republicans. In other words almost one-third of the US Senate are self-described moderates. With such an evenly divided chamber, these 28 or 29 people, if acting in concert, could drive the Senate's agenda. Yet, the power wielded by the parties make such a situation unlikely except in very rare cases.

Over in the House, there are 54 GOP members of the moderate Main Street Partnership and 74 members of the DLC. While this is not as high of a percentage of members as in the Senate, it is a significant block of members who could have enormous clout in a similarly closely divided chamber.

Now, in a post McCain-Feingold world, one in which the parties have lost their power, there is a huge potential for a moderation of American politics. Gone would be the days of the pre-primary Left and Right dance, party bosses, and unresponsive politicians. It would bring the 50% of Americans who don't vote back into the fold. If this were to occur we will look back at McCain-Feingold as a wondrous day for American democracy.

Just read this. It's an open letter to Bin Laden from an American Muslim professor.
Left Swerve

How quickly we forget our past mistakes. After getting our heads handed to us in the 2002 midyears the Democrats seem to be content to drag the presidential hopefuls to the Left fringe. Of course it doesn't help when one of the first tests of strength is in the pacifistic and populist territory of Iowa where they care more about grain subsidies than protecting our country from tyrants.

Now comes word that uber lefty Congressman Kucinich will enter the presidential sweepstakes. According to the former boy mayor, "inspections are an adequate substitute for war." I'm sorry, Congressman, but only total and complete disarmament is an adequate substitute for war.

Not only does Kucinich lead the Progressive Caucus, but enjoys support from Ralph Nader. Perhaps if Al Sharpton was not feasting on his own megalomania he would support Kucinich, too. This is exactly the sort of candidate that cost the Democrats the White House for most of my lifetime and has cost us control of Congress for most of the past eight years.

With the exit of Bill Clinton from the Democratic stage, the party has lurched back to the Left, starting with Al Gore doing his best Mike Dukakis impersonation. Now, we have three avowedly anti-war candidates (Dean, Sharpton and Kucinich) and, with the exception of Joe Lieberman, a cadre of hedging shysters. Kerry, Gephardt and Edwards all supported the Congressional resolution giving the President authority to use force. But since their vote, they have continued to duck and cover in fear of alienating the Lefties that still control the Democratic primaries and caucuses. Only Joe Lieberman has stood strong in support of ousting Saddam Hussein. (I might add that Senator Graham, if/when he enters the race, will be the other hawk.)

But there is an opportunity for the Democratic Party here. Someone can have a "Sista Souljah" moment. Will Joe Lieberman step up and take Kucinich and the other Saddam appeasers in the Party to task? Who will remind Democrats of their storied foreign policy past with such figures as Woodrow Wilson, FDR, JFK? At one point in our history it was the isolationists of the Right that wanted America to stick her head in the sand, ostrich-like, while the world crumbled. Now it is the appeasers of the Left. How sad for the Democratic Party that once was led by the man who stared down Kruschev that they should now avert their eyes to the horrors and threat of Saddam Hussein.
Student Loans and Econ 101

Ted Rall is saying student loans are for suckers. And Victor over at Cardinal Collective has a good counterpoint dealing with the value of Teach for America and other Americorps programs. Of course, as someone who toiled for a few years in the human service field and was changed dramatically because of it, I concur with Victor.

But my concern with Ted Rall's piece is his customary lack of respect for basic economics. Rall bemoans the fact that recent college grads face a grim economic reality that will not allow for them to follow their dreams. Yet, there is ample opportunity for the young and idealistic to take advantage of TFA, the Peace Corps or various other community service opportunities while deferring student loans, some of which would be interest free. Rall seems to ignore that part of the reason for low entry wages for college graduates has to do with the glut of such individuals. Over the past two decades more and more people are attending college. As more people flood into higher education, the value of a degree is actually diminished in symbolic and real terms. Gone are the days when a bachelor's degree was a signifier of higher order aptitudes and abilities. (I might argue that the status of the master's degree is approaching that same problem.) Employers act as rational agents and allow the market to set wages. And when there are more college graduates than jobs, wages will decrease, or at best stagnate.

Rall even cites the College Board's own data which estimates that those with college degrees will earn roughly $1 million more dollars than their non-college counterparts over a lifetime. He neglects to mention the secondary benefits of higher education, such as health outcomes. Rall would like to see the US move towards a higher education system that was fully subsidized by the government. Leave out that the US higher education system is the envy of the world and there are still problems with his wish. Much like in health care, when the consumer faces no cost, or low cost, there is no incentive to consume efficiently.

Now, obviously, there are opportunity costs that students' face when attending college, mainly the wages forgone. But if you remove tuition- or student debt- from the equation, there is little to prevent overconsumption of higher education. And while this may be heresy to the feel good folks in the education establishment, there are a good many people who do not belong in higher education.

The consequences of our push towards universal post secondary education have been stagnant entry level wages and a diminishment in the quality of American higher education.
Tax dollars at work

I hate to take shots at Public Radio because I am an avid listener and without it I would likely go insane. But the local station here in Albany crossed my imaginary line in the sand last week when it hosted Scott Ritter, notorious Benedict Arnold and sexual predator. I really should not even mention his stance against war with Iraq, because to me it really is of no importance. I would be equally as incensed if my tax dollars went to support a speech by a pro-war sexual predator.

What I find interesting is the lack of moral outrage from the holier than thou anti-war Left on this one. Their position seems to be that it is unfortunate, but it does not diminish his credibility on the Iraqi question. Huh? Have we travelled so far down the path of moral equivalency that we cannot even muster an ounce of outrage over someone who tried to lure underage girls to watch him perform sex acts? Why is it that those on the Left always seem all to willing to forgive someone of their personal moral shortcomings so long as they have the right position on a certain issue? It would be interesting to go back in a time machine to about 1998 or so when Ritter was a hawk and see how quickly the Left would maul him for his moral aplomb.
Let it snow?

Ok.. I am now officially anti-snow! Here in Albany we have had two big snow storms already this winter- at Xmas and around New Year- and each dumped about 24 inches on us. And since then we've had random bursts of snow activity to keep a fresh white coat on our mountains of snow. Plus, it has been below 32 almost everyday since before XMas. (what global warming?) Just last night when I went to bed, the weather gurus were saying either 2-4 or 3-6 inches. Suddenly today the estimates have risen from 7-14 this morning to 12-24 this afternoon. It seems as though 24 inches is the magic number this winter. Can April really be that far away?
Morning Quickie

Check out this from Andrew Sullivan. Even more nonsense from the Catholic Church. For anyone paying attention, the Vatican lost its moral authority a long time ago with its cover up of clergy sexual abuse. Any institution that aids and abets child abuse has absolutely zero claim to moral leadership. And, shortly after it really hit the fan in that scandal, the Church decided to purge seminaries of gay seminarians. Not only would that be too little, too late, but all evidence suggests that the VAST majority of pedophiles are heterosexual. But, for the Catholic Church, symbolism is everything.

But this weekend just put the icing on the cake. The Pope sent an envoy to meet with Saddam Hussein and Saddam's right hand man, Tariq Aziz, went to the tomb of St. Francis and got to meet with the Pope. The senile Pontiff said, "God bless you. God bless Iraq."

Moral clarity is NOT the Church's strong suit these days. And I wish the Pope would worry less about world affairs and focus what little energy and life he has left to rid the Church of abusive priests.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Am I really that old?
For at least the past fifteen years, cultural conservatives have complained about the entertainment industry and its prurient tendencies. Now, for much of that time I let it go in one year and out the other and chalked it up to the groaning of a generation whose time had passed. But, over time, I began to wonder why there was so much gratutious sex and violence in movies and on television. I am far from a prude, as the bookmarks on my IE or my mpeg collection would show, but it seems to me that there is a time and place for certain things. I am not so naive as to fail to realize that sex and violence do not sell, either.

However, there does seem to be something awfully troubling about a society that airs such entertainment during the hours in which children would be watching. And I don't mean the kind of frank sexuality one would see on European television. I am talking more about the Jerry Springer, lowest common denominator variety of raunch. And what to me is sad, and what brought this on now, is that the sitcoms of the past were able to be uproariously funny without being sexual or debasing. Just now I caught an episode of Sanford and Son (one of my all time favorite shows) and realized that Red Foxx was funny without being gross. Just as the Three Stooges, MASH, All in the Family, etc.

Try this as an experiment at home. Watch just one hour of primetime television and count how many laughs are achieved without using sex as a tool.
Now, for something completely different
Ahh.. the estate tax. I knew that at some point I would have to visit this issue. And, please, let us dispense with calling it the death tax. Whatever one's opinions on the rightness of the estate tax, using loaded terms like the death tax do nothing to further the debate or help us reach truth or good public policy. Such spin is merely a short cut to actually thinking!

Let is start with the FACTS about the federal estate tax. In its current incarnation, roughly two percent of individuals who die this year will have their estate's taxed at all. The first $675,000 of estate valuation is not taxed at all. And that amount is scheduled to increase to $1,000,000 in 2006. Another FACT is that the tax rate varies from 37% to 55%. The higher number applies to estates valued at over $3,000,000. Another FACT is that much of this income has NOT already been taxed as it has been sheltered from generation to generation and has never been subjected to income or capital gains taxes.

Beyond the actual facts, though, is the philosophy about estate taxation. Let us not forget that it was the rabid Communist Theodore Roosevelt who gave us the estate tax, supported by economic theory from the noted Socialist Adam Smith. (tongue firmly in cheek) The US is based on a belief in individual thrift and enterprise and that those attributes will drive its economy. Those who inherit a large estate have no economic incentive to work or be economically productive. As Andrew Carnegie said, "The parent who leaves a son enormous wealth generally deadens the talents and energies of the son and tempts him to lead a less useful and less worthy life than he otherwise would."

But I would make a further point and that maybe ties in with my more libertarian roots. I think that we should have a slightly higher exemption on the estate tax to reflect the current value of money. I do not know what the magic number is, and there has been a lot of talk about $3,000,000, which does not sound unreasonable to my ears. But, for estates greater than that amount, I would suggest the tax rate be nearer 75% than the current 55%. And that is to give an overwhelming incentive for charitable giving. In my mind, society would be better served if the money collected by the US Treasury in estate taxes went to the non-profit sector instead. I simply trust charities and foundations to address social problems more than I do the federal government.
Saudi interest
In the wake of 9-11 there has been a great deal of debate over our alliance with Saudi Arabia. And, in our current run up to a war in Iraq the Saudis are certainly not living up to their side of the bargain. Besides the fact that sixteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudi citizens, there have been numerous reports of members of the Royal family aiding and abetting Islamo-Fascists.

My own view is that our ties with the House of Saud ought to be severed. But I think it is worth examing Saudi motives and interests. Let us remember that the House of Saud is a very wealthy family that controls a large chunk of the world's oil supply. It is a country with a stark contrast between its elite ruling family and the people it governs. Poverty is common in Saudi Arabia, despite its vast oil wealth. Saudi Arabia also is home to the conservative Wahhabi strain of Islam. This is not to say that members of the royal family are practitioners, in fact there are constant stories of the exploits of many of its princes.

Yet, the royal family was wise enough to capitalize on the religious community. They realized that such a stratified country could not last long without some form of social control. And they recognized that the conservative Wahhabi clerics would prove to be adept agents. Thus, the House of Saud has poured millions of dollars into exporting Wahhabism to the rest of the world and supporting madrasas in its own country. In exchange for their generous financial largesse, the royals have received unconditional support from their Muslim community. (To be sure, this is a Faustian bargain for the clerics.)

The current situation in the Middle East represents a challenge to the Saudis. If the world community ousts Saddam and transforms Iraq into a democratic country, and if the Iranian students are successful in reforming their country, then Saudi Arabia will have two burgeoning democracies in its backyard. It would not be long before Saudi citizens began to want some freedom of their own. And they quite likely would receive support from their newly free neighbors. Saudi Arabia's oppostion to the use of force in Iraq has nothing to do with their support for international organizations and everything to do with holding onto their power.
Intergenerational Rip Offs

Now that the 2004 Presidential campaign is underway, we are beginning to hear the familiar call for universal health care. While I would not take issue with the ideal of covering all Americans, where I part company with universal advocates is on their insistence that it be implemented using a single payer plan in which the government is the insurer or the premium payer. There are, I think, a number of reasons to be opposed to such a scheme but I would like to focus on one potential outcome of such a plan.

Under a single payer system in which the government pays it would be the government that also determined what care was available and in what amounts, where, etc. Now, this probably brings to mind the rationing questiong, and it should. There is widespread agreement, I think, that the rationing we have now, based on health insurance status, is wrong. One can not, with a straight face, claim that single payer would not necessitate rationing of some form or another.

Just how would rationing take place? Government bureaucrats would receive policy directives from Congress and the President, probably spelling out pretty specific regulations. And those policies would be driven by politics, as expected. In other words, whoever turned out the most votes, gave the most campaign contributions, etc. would have the greatest influence over health care decisions. And just who is that in our system? The elederly! They vote at much higher rates than people between the ages of 18 and 40. It is not hard to imagine a major transfer of health care dollars from preventive to palliative care. Money would be diverted from prenatal care to the latest medical technology to make grandma live for another six months.

If you find this hypothesis difficult to believe think about this for a moment. The average retiree breaks even on his/her social security contribution, with interest and adjusted for inflation within five years. Life expectancy is significantly longer than five years after the age at which one is eligible for social security. In other words, after the first few years, our social security recipients are on welfare. This is an enormous drain on the public coffers. But any proposal to raise the retirement age or index benefits is met with stony opposition from the AARP and their legion of retirees. And their voices carry the day because young people do not vote and polticians lack the courage to stand up to powerful interest groups. Is this what we want our health care system to become, too?

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Why are they so angry?

I am trying my best not to see any pictures or reports on the protests today, just because I have seen them all before. I saw it personally back in 1990 and 1991. I grew up in a town with a military base (in fact, fighters were scrambled from there on 9-11) and you can imagine that there were a few protests outside the gates. There is actually a rotary off of which the road to the base begins (now that I mentioned rotary, you can all tell which state I am from!) and one day as I drove home from my summer job there they were- the anti-war crowd, with their signs. This was at the time when we were still in the Desert Shield phase, before the war. There were about twenty or so people with signs reading "no blood for oil" and "war is not the answer" and "honk for peace". Of course, I didn't honk and instead went home, grabbed a piece of cradboard from the basement of my parents' house and took out a marker. On it I wrote "STOP SADDAM!" I returned to the rotary and stood opposite from the others. I was met with looks of surprise and shock. I can tell you I received far more thumbs up and horn honks than the others. The reporter who was dispensed to cover the story came over and even asked a few questions. Given my own age, she had assumed that I was in the military (I was 19 at the time). I was not, but I assured her that I had a personal stake in the safety of our troops, as I had a cousin and several friends who were in theater and would eventually be in harm's way. Maybe I didn't make for a compelling story because she ran the bit on the anti-war folks, but not a mention of me!

But back to my story. Just yesterday I caught a bit of some anti-war press conference sort of thing on CSPAN. What I was struck by was just how angry these people were. And I have noticed that on several occasions now and in the past. I think the anger comes from a world that has passed them by. They didn't stop Vietnam; weren't able to get the US out of Central America; haven't toppled capitalism; etc. After such a string of defeats one begins to get bitter, I would think. Listen carefully and you can hear it in their voices and read it in the words they chose.
Ok... just this one more.

I know that I said I would restrain myself with respect to screeds against the anti-war crowd. But I just can't resist. There was an item yesterday on Georgetown and American University demonstrations at the French Embassy here . (Note: the link may be broken, apologies). The entire story is worth a read, but this, I think is the money graf.

“We’re out here because there might be a war soon, and, personally, I don’t think there’s ever a situation that justifies a war,” Conor McHugh, Irish exchange student studying at Georgetown, said. “It seems that these people are protesting the right of France to have its own opinion. France has the right to disagree with the United States. There are major dangers in facing a war unilaterally, and the approach that the U.S. has is if you don’t agree, you are going to get bullied around. You don’t have a right to disagree with the U.S.”

Of course, I would not argue that France, or any other nation, does not have a right to its opinion. But let's also realize that those on the other side of France have every right to express theirs, too. But on to the substance of this dimwit's statements. He claims that there is never a situation that justifies war? I am not even sure where to begin on that point because on its face it is too ridiculous! Hey, Conor, try on these reasons- genocide, self defense and terrorism. That seems to be a good starting point for just wars.

Now, what about his oft repeated charge about US unilateralism? Apparently, the simple fact that Germany and France disagree with the US, that makes any action unilateral. Of course, what the dear boy fails to acknowledge is that at least twenty other countries have signed letters of support to the United States' position. So, let me see if I have this correct twenty countries support us and four do not? Or, in the case of NATO and Turkey's defense fifteen countries supported the US position and three were against. Hmm.. kind of curious that a position which enjoys 5 to 1 support is unilateralism! Hopefully the dear Irish lad is not a mathematics major!

It's the SECURITY, stupid.

Today is the big day for the anti-war crowd with protests planned all over the world. I'll restrain myself from another screed about the idiocy of the anti-war lefties, at least in part. What I think they fail to realize, and I think this failure effects the pro-war crowd just as much, is that public support is predicated on one idea- SECURITY. This was really brought home ot me this morning. As I drove home, there was a woman caller to the talk radio show that happened to be on. She had lost a son on 9-11 and what she said really makes a lot of sense, "I don't like war, but I want security". And I think this is the crux of America's post 9-11 foreign policy and the President understands what many of his detractors do not.

Of course, there is no way that we can be absolutely safe; there is no perfect world. But our President has an obligation to take whatever steps necessary to minimize risk to American lifes. Now, there are those who would say that Iraq does not pose an "imminent threat", but are they really so sure? Should we assume that because Saddam has not, up until now, given chemical or biological weapons to Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas or Islamic Jihad that he would not be so willing to in the future? Keep in mind that this is a man who tried to have the former President Bush assassinated.

Will you sleep well knowing Saddam is in power and controls weapons of mass destruction?

Friday, February 14, 2003

Ahh.. the much promised first real original content! I had contemplated blogging about the Security Council meeting this morning, but it has been well dissected elsewhere and with much more skill and knowledge than I would bring to the table. Besides, I think the whole situation has reached a saturation point. I do not claim to bring any new or original ideas or information to the dialogue and I think (fear?) people are fairly entrenched in their beliefs on the use of force.

So let us avoid all that and speak of music. I picked up the Zwan CD here just the other day. I must admit that I am not a lover of Billy Corgan, but the bits I heard were promising. And the supporting cast (don't know if they want to be known as such, but let's face it, when the cueball is your front man you'll be stuck in the background) is much more talented than the Pumpkins line up. Of course, for us indie rockers, this band poses a problem. We all think Billy sold his soul a long time ago after getting our hopes up with Gish he went on to emptyvee stardom and sold out arenas full of teenyboppers the world over. But, for this band he has brought in Dave Pajo, one of the undisputed champs of indie rockdom. Oh, and the guitar player from Chavez is in the band, too. But come on he's no Pajo!

I popped the CD in and have not been disappointed. There are a few tracks that the kids will like (and the TRL crowd will vote for), but there is a good chunk that is only more accessible to a discerning ear (yes, I am a music snob!). You can hear the indie influences and on some songs Billy goes almost silent and lets the music work its magic. One track even approaches post rock ruminations.

I'll give this one 3.5 stars (out of a 5 star universe) for now. I may have to revisit it sometime down the road, but I will try not to let the kids' adoration colour my views!
I know this is awful lazy of me, but I am going to post one more of my long missives that had previously sent by email. Honestly, I do promise original content on here. Pinkie swear, even!
This one deals with the Bush tax plan. I think I wrote it mainly to defend against my friends' claims that I was a Bushie. I will admit that I pulled the lever in 2000. But for me it was more a vote against Gore than for Bush. To those who don't know me (thank your lucky stars!) I have two photographs on my living room wall. One is of John McCain and the other is of Bill Clinton. So you might appropriately describe my politics a radically moderate. Hmmm.. I will have to do an intro via my political beliefs soon. But for now, here is my screed against the K Street Bush tax proposal. Enjoy!!

Let's begin with his most recent tax proposal (I would start with his initial tax cut two years ago, but its failure has been already well documented). I should say that I do agree with the President, and many economists, that the United States is in need of a stimulus package. From there, I part company with the Bushies. The current proposal provides (or costs, depends on how you spin it) just under $700 billion in tax relief, including the elimination of the dividend tax and lowering personal income tax burdens.

According to Bushie spin, the "average" taxpayer savings is $1,083. Well, that would depend on what your definition of average is. The spin put out by the administration makes it sound like the average taxpayer would receive this much tax relief. But this average refers to the amount of savings. Look more closely and you'll see that an average taxpayer would see about a $250 break; the top 1% of filers would have an average cut of about $24,100; and, those with incomes above $1 million would receive a tax break averaging $90,200. There you see, my friends, the law of averages.

But wait, there's more. The dividend tax is next up for elimination. The President claims that taxing dividends is double taxation because corporate profits are already taxed before they even become a dividend check to an investor. Sounds about right in theory, but it misses the fact that roughly half of the corporations in America pay NO corporate tax because of our loophole riddled tax code. But the problem here is larger than a fallacious premise. The real problem is the effect this would have on public borrowing. As it stands now, there is an incentive to invest in municipal, state and other tax exempt issues. But eliminating dividend taxes would make these vehicles much less attractive in the market and would therefore cause interest rates on public debt to rise in order to compete. And what does that mean to the average taxpayer? It means that s/he would have to pay higher taxes to cover the increased cost of public borrowing. So elimination of the dividend tax would be an indirect transfer of wealth from the public at large to the investor class.

One other small point. For years, the economic and budget forecasts provided by the OMB had looked at a ten year time horizon. Of course, people have noted the problems with projecting government spending behavior out over such a long time. Yet, the Bushies took full advantage when they rammed through their first tax cut. But now that the picture shows deficits as far as the eye can see, they have decided to look only at a five year horizon.

Are these the people you want in charge of the US economy?
So now for my first post. Except for those of you unfortunate to be on my email list, this will be a repeat. I had actually blast mailed this piece over the weekend. So then, apologies to all of you who have read this, or at least got the email and then delated it.

Allow me, if you will, to vent my spleen a bit over the current state of the world. I am talking specifically about the current crisis involving Iraq. I've held back and been satisfied with passing along the thoughts of others who share my views. But over the past few days I have reached my boiling point and fear that without such a venting I might actually endanger some poor old leftie who happens to pontificate in my general vicinity. So.. here goes.

The problem with today's anti-war crowd are many. But first let me allow those who are true pacifists off the hook. As a practicing Buddhist I can understand your feelings and it is something that I myself struggle with. One can feel in your heart and soul that violence does not solve problems, yet the rational mind sees what is around it and comes to a quite opposite conclusion. At least for me that is the case. So I give a free pass to actual pacifists, as long as they are willing to decry the evil of Saddam Hussein, Kim Il Jong, et al.

Now, to the throwbacks from an era long gone. Take a look at the anti-war crowd. Aging hippies still fighting the war in Vietnam, US involvement in Central America and other sundry causes. Of course, they do have their younger devotees, mostly naive college students whose still developing minds have not attained the ability to discern and discriminate between fact and fiction. Like lemmings or sheep they are all too willing to follow leaders whose sermons jibe with their world view that America and multi-national corporations are all evil (I grant that some corporations are evil). If one is already predisposed to thinking America and her government are corrupt (again, I grant a certain level of corruption), then the easy explanation for war with Iraq is corporate interests and/or oil. If one already believes the President was not duly elected (god, are we still living in 2000?), then a handy explanation for his drive to war is his poll numbers. If one already believes the President is a dilettante with little intellectual power, then the rationale for war with Iraq is to avenge his father.

To the anti-war crowd (I hesitate to use the word Left, because there have been several Leftists who support the President) there can be no just cause for war with Iraq. They are content to continue the path charted by the international community for the past twelve years, which has been the UN passes resolutions and Iraq ignores them. Now, there are those in the anti-war gang who truly believe that containment is possible. They recall the Cold War and US efforts to contain a Soviet Union with imperialist designs. But we live in such a different world now. And it is not just the events of 9-11 that have changed the battlefield. Also, remember the conflicts we engaged in order to curb the Soviets- Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Cuban missile crisis. We should not forget the very real cost of containment.

But, I would argue that containment is no longer possible in today's world. The Cold War detente was predicated upon Mutually Assured Destruction. Neither the Soviets, nor the US wanted such an outcome in which no one would survive. For all their global ambitions, the Soviets also had the sense to survive. Such is not the case in the world we now inhabit. A world of suicide bombers. And we are not speaking of kamikazes who take out a score of enemy combatants. These are people who specifically target civilians, have no compunction about killing children or women. Saddam Hussein has paid the families of suicide bombers; he has used chemical and biological weapons on his own people. The world abhorred the Nazi experiments on Jews (and rightly so), but Saddam experiments on his own people! Does this really seem like a man we can contain through international agreements?

There also those who oppose war because they see no imminent threat posed by Iraq. Or that there is no smoking gun. Should we wait until American buildings are once again smoldering before we act? Would the world be better served by waiting until Iraq is finally able to enrich uranium and weaponize it? Do we hold off of defanging Saddam until he has once again threatened his neighbors? If someone is about to hit you, do you wait until the punch lands?

It is understandable that some people are not comfortable with a US policy that is willing to pre-emptively strike. It does have the potential for abuse, at least in theory. But in practice we live in a democratic society with checks and balances that would prevent any such occurrence. Those abroad who criticize such a policy are really bemoaning American hegemony and their own impotence. Those at home are blind to the realities of the age in which we live.

There are also those who are not comfortable with the US exporting our values abroad (these people live on the Right as well as the Left). They prefer the US work through impotent International bodies to address issues such as human rights and nuclear arms. Ask the people of Rwanda or Bosnia if they would have preferred unilateral US action. The UN that so many of the anti-war crowd adore failed to act or acted too late to save the lives of hundreds of thousands as genocide occurred right under the UN's nose.

This brings me to the international community and especially Europe. Those who most resist action on Iraq- France, Germany, Russia- all have economic interests in the country. Not to mention France's usual hostility to US interests. Let's keep in mind that this is the country who has seen fit to invite the thug Robert Mugabe to speak at a conference on Africa. Germany obviously has its own past to account for. Russia has lucrative oil contracts with Iraq that may be voided should regime change occur. And China is worried that if the US ousts Saddam Hussein, Kim Il Jong will be next and US hegemony will extend to the Korean peninsula, right in China's backyard.

The important thing to take notice of, though, is the wide support enjoyed by the US throughout Europe. France and Germany no longer speak for Europe. Letters of support have been sent by Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Denmark.

If only the anti-war crowd would wake up to today's world, rather than in their tie dyed past.